When he was growing up, people thought George Chrissafis might have been a little odd.
Including George, himself.
As a kid, Chrissafis loved to kick a football. If he had a catch with his dad, he’d rather kick it back to him than throw it. He bought a kicking tee, and never used it.
“I just liked having it,” he said.
Ironically, he played soccer and was a goalie. The least “kicky” position on the field.
Maybe it was.
But considering how things turned out, maybe it wasn’t.
The Hamilton resident was a key weapon for this year’s Notre Dame High football team with his place-kicking, kickoffs, punting and, on occasion, tackling.
Through the Irish’s 10-1 season, which included an impressive playoff win at Delbarton and a near-miss at state power St. Peter’s, the junior hit on 58 of 63 extra-point attempts (92 percent), had nine kickoffs go in the endzone for touchbacks, punted nine times for a 38.6 average, and managed to deaden numerous kickoffs inside the five to allow coverage teams to put the opponent’s back against the endzone. For good measure, he also made four tackles after kicking off.
“He has the ability to come down as a wild man and make tackles,” Irish coach Sean Clancy said with a smile. “I think he might be the only kicker to have three unsportsmanlike penalties for tackling out of bounds. Not that I support that, but it shows the fact he is a football player who is also a kicker. He doesn’t run the other way.”
What makes this impressive is that Chrissafis has an average build, kind of what one would expect in a kicker. He would love to line up on defense someday but keeps it in perspective.
“If we’re being honest my skill level’s just not there,” he said. “But I like getting up there (on kickoffs) because no one expects to get hit by the kicker. When they come up to me I just throw them to the side. They come up to block but don’t expect it.”
Of course, he loves telling Irish linebackers he’s taking their jobs.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I do it all the time.”
But his future is in kicking. About the only thing Chrissafis did not do this year was kick a field goal. Because ND finished so many drives in the endzone, he only attempted two. One was blocked and on the other he slipped on a muddy field. But in practice he routinely banged them between 40 and 45 yards, and his longest is from 55.
His abilities have landed him at the invitation-only Kicking World National Showcase Dec. 7-8 in Austin, Texas. Chrissafis is one of 50 kickers from around the country who will be at the event, run by renowned kicking coach Brent Grablachoff.
Chrissafis attended Grablachoff’s regional camp in August, which includes technique training one day and a skills competition the next. Chrissafis finished first in punting and kickoffs and second in field goals, which garnered he and a co-camper an invitation to the showcase.
“It’s a big deal,” Chrissafis said. “I started actually following this guy a few years ago. I always wanted to do his camps and when I got the opportunity, my goal was to get to the showcase invite because that can lead to another door for my future. I didn’t know how to react (after being invited), I was just overwhelmed.”
Chrissafis’ journey to Austin started on the East Windsor PAL soccer fields, where he played goalie for the recreation teams but always wanted to play football. His uncle played rugby so he would kick the ball around with him, and “whenever I played football I always wanted to kick it all the time. It was kind of weird. Instead of throwing it, I would kick it.”
So did he wonder about himself?
“Oh yeah,” Chrissafis said with a laugh.
The family moved to Hamilton several years ago, and Chrissafis and his brother Ethan would have gone to Nottingham but opted for Notre Dame. After allowing seven goals in the last pre-season scrimmage for the freshman team, Chrissafis quit soccer and went to football tryouts the next day.
“That’s when I started taking kicking seriously,” he said. “I already had a lot of power. You get a lot of your technique from soccer and then you have to get your actual football style down. If I didn’t know how to kick a soccer ball, I don’t think I could have been a kicker.”
He made varsity and had an uneventful freshman year but when Notre Dame returned to prominence last season, Chrissafis was 28-for-33 on PATs (85 percent), had three touchbacks and made three kickoff tackles. After furthering his workload last summer, Chrissafis was far and away Mercer County’s top place-kicker this year.
In fact, he’s one of the best Clancy has seen over his long career.
“Without question,” the coach said. “When I was at the Lawrenceville School we had a kicker who went to West Point and he wasn’t better than George. He’s much more consistent and has more confidence this year, and those are two very good things for a kicker. And George is just gonna get stronger and better and more flexible next year. He’s also gonna get more disciplined in his kicking. As George and every kicker knows, it’s doing the exact same thing every time in that situation. That leads to kicking production.”
There are also times Clancy has to reel his man in.
“If I didn’t tell him to stop kicking, he would kick so much eventually his leg would go flying off,” the coach said. “He kicks during practice, he kicks on his own time. He kicks six out of seven days a week, and then he’s in the weight room with coach (John) McKenna.”
Chrissafis feels he needs to do more lifting for his leg, but this year showed plenty of power when it came to kicking deep. Much of that has to do with concentration, either on scoring attempts or kickoffs.
“It’s just consistency,” he said. “If I’m consistent and I hit the point on the ball where I’m supposed to every time, it helps me a great deal. And with place kicking, I when I take my steps back, I take a deep breath and my shoulders drop a little. My mind goes kind of blank. I aim for a target pretty far past the field goal or extra point, and that’s pretty much it.”
The same goes with punting.
“It’s all about how you drop the football,” he said. “If you’re a centimeter off, it messes up everything. It’s definitely a lot harder than kicking.”
If it sounds like Chrissafis is consumed by his art, it’s because he is.
“I put in a lot of work,” he said. “Six days a week I’m always out there. If you stop kicking for a few days, then your form is gone, just like that.”